5 Writing Exercises To Keep You on Top of Your Game

Writers seem to be broken into two camps: those who view writing exercises helpful and freeing and those who see them as time consuming yet sometimes necessary. I think exercises can be a great way to pull your brain out of editing mode and jack it into a creative mode. They can also encourage us to explore different writing styles and techniques, deepening our knowledge of craft.  And the fact is, sometimes our brains need a nudge. Author and fellow creative Jessica Bell has a few unique exercises to share that can kickstart creativity!

Five Writing Exercises That Will Keep You on Top of Your Game

nutshellWhen you think about writing exercises, does your stomach sink? Does it remind you of homework? Maybe you should try to look at them from another perspective. Think of them as a tool to keep you on top of your game, or as an inspiration boost.

Sometimes, when you are working on one particular manuscript, your brain becomes lazy. It slips into the routines and personalities of what you believe your characters to be, and creates a bit of a wall. This means that you could be cutting yourself off from possible inspiration that could improve your work, and help grow new ideas.

Look at it this way:

If you are cooped up in a house without windows for a month, you’ll forget how wonderful it is to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, and you are going to be quite deficient in vitamin D. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Have you ever heard writers talking about the “bones” of their stories? Well, writing exercises are like the sun. They keep your bones strong. And they shine a new light on your muse.

 Here are five exercises that will replenish your muse with that vitamin D:

Exercise #1. You are going to write a short scene between two characters, A and B (any gender and age). A dislikes B, but B has a romantic crush on A. At the end of the scene they should both have the opposite opinion of one another: B begins to dislike A, and A begins to crush on B. We should be able to witness the transition from beginning to end. But there’s a catch. You must write from the point of view of ONE character only. Use 3rd person limited, past tense. Use at least three similes/metaphors in your scene. It can be as many words as you wish.

Exercise #2. Step one: Watch the first ten minutes of your favourite movie (or until the opening scene comes to a natural end). If there is dialogue, write it down. If not, describe what is happening. Note: Do not do this exercise with a movie that has been adapted from a novel you have read. Step two: Dissect the behaviour and actions of the actors, and/or the appearance and atmosphere of the setting. Write the first ten minutes of the movie as if it were the opening chapter of a novel.

Exercise #3. Step one: Listen to a song that makes you emotional. In point form, write down how it makes you feel, the memories it evokes, and anything non-specific that comes to mind. Step two: Use your list to adapt the song into a vignette. You do not have to directly use every single thing on your list. It is there for inspiration. Listen to the song as many times as necessary. Avoid using actual lyrics from the song. You might like to submit your finished piece to a literary journal (like mine!) and you do not want to infringe copyright.

Exercise #4. Step one: If you’re a poetry fan, find your favourite poem. If you’re not a poetry fan, feel free to choose one of mine. Read it through once. Write down the feelings it evokes. Step two: Read through the poem again. What is it about? Note down your thoughts. Do not be afraid of getting wrong answers. There is no such thing as a wrong answer here. This exercise is designed to purely spark your imagination. Step three: Read through the poem again, more slowly, focusing on one line at a time. Identify the imagery each line evokes, and the deeper emotions related to this imagery. Has any kind of symbolism been used to illustrate this emotion? If so, what? Is there a prominent theme? Make notes. If you’re drawing a blank, which might be the case if you have never read poetry before, choose a word from each line, and play a word-association game with yourself. This might help trigger some ideas. Step four: Read the poem again. Is there any sort of narrative? (i.e. does it tell a story?) If there is no narrative, create one of your own based on the information you have written down in steps one to three. Now adapt this poem into a short story or vignette.

Note: If you use one of my poems for this exercise, please email your piece to me. I’d love to see what you’ve come up with! You never know, maybe I’ll like it so much that I’ll publish it in Vine Leaves Literary Journal.

Exercise #5. Step one: Choose your favourite television series and write out the dialogue for as much of one episode as you can. Not from memory! Watch the episode and pause the video to write it down. Step two: Read through the dialogue while simultaneously watching the episode again. Identify the instances of subtext (the meaning beneath the dialogue; what the speaker really means, but doesn’t say). A character’s behaviour will always embody clues. Step three: Refer to your notes from step two to write a completely different scene using the subtext you identified.

Have you ever done any writing exercises like this before? Have they helped you? If so, how? If not, why do you think that is?

Jessica BellJessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/ guitarist, is a Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Connect with Jessica online:

Website | Retreat & workshop | Blog | Vine Leaves Literary Journal | Facebook | Twitter





Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
This entry was posted in Experiments, Guest Post, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Craft. Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to 5 Writing Exercises To Keep You on Top of Your Game

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  3. Jennine Jones says:

    I love writing, but have never had the courage to try fiction. This year I am committed to use my time, energy and passion to find out if I have the necessary talent and creativity to make my imagination come to life on a page. I am thrilled to have found you. I can’t wait to start these exercises.

    • Bravo on taking the plunge, Jennine! Remember that writing is a process. You might get discouraged at times, but if you stick with it and keep writing, you’ll find success. So glad you found us!

  4. These are such creative writing exercises! I’ve done some exercises before in creative writing classes I’ve been to, but nothing as fun as these 🙂

  5. Dawn Allen says:

    I fall into the ‘loves to dive into writing exercises’ to pull out of my left brain critiquing mode. The exercises are awesome. I’m excited to try these on for size because I’ve been editing and revising a novel. I can use a jolt to my creative side. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  6. Pam says:

    These look like a ton of fun. Will be doing them this evening.

  7. Vickie says:

    I plan on doing these exercises this weekend! Thanks for taking the time to post them and help other writers!

  8. Emma King says:

    These are great exercises!! I’m totally going to do some of these 🙂

  9. I love the exercise with the song. As well as being a writer, I’m very musical, too. I think many creatives share a passion for more than one area of artistry, so combining the two is a great idea to get the writing juices flowing. Thanks for being here, Jess!

  10. Jemi Fraser says:

    Those are awesome tips Jess! I especially love the one about the opening scene! 🙂

  11. Maria W says:

    The first prompt sounds like fun 🙂 Thanks for posting!
    And of course, this is my random comment in hopes of winning a book 🙂

  12. Diana Beebe says:

    These are great exercises! Thanks so much for sharing them.

  13. I have done quite a few writing exercises in the past but I always feel that I am doing something wrong (my internal editor is just a crazy monster). Reading this article made me feel excited to try some of the exercises here and it opened up my eyes to the vast knowledge I could receive from doing it! Thanks! This blog is such an inspiration to us aspiring writers! 🙂

  14. Rosi says:

    I like to do writing exercises in the privacy of my own home. I HATE doing them at workshops and having to share the results. The first one looks particularly good. Thanks for sharing these with us.

  15. I especially love the first idea. That would be fun to try with two of my characters! I may suggest it to my students, too.

  16. Angela Brown says:

    Those are some excellent writing exercise tips. I do believe I need to get in some time to get my writing Vitamin D in 🙂

  17. Really interesting ideas. And I’m running a flash fiction workshop in a couple of months, so definitely will be useful for that.

  18. S.J. Maylee says:

    Oh! Excellent ideas. Thank you. I’m going to have to try these out. 😀

  19. J P Hogan says:

    Got a kick out of your 5. At jphogan.org is a sampler new writers can join old writers is similarly being of clever inspirations from. To many who read I am one that political writers they read do read, and then some more expansive stuff. Likewise if a poem or piece of mine is used I too would like to see a copy of any’s works so. I am on Twitter and so via http://CitRB.mobi. My favorite trick has me as a most prolific as to why Hillary Clinton should still never win Presidency. I should put out a book of such as for a Guinness World Record for short prose punditry. Cheers.

  20. AM Harte says:

    I enjoy writing exercises but rarely think of turning to them regularly – at most I use them to inspire small pieces of flash for my blog.

    Exercises 1, 3 and 4 sound interesting. I often listen to a song on repeat if I find it inspires a particular scene but have never stopped to think about why exactly that particular song evokes what it does.

    As for #2… I’ve honestly never thought to look to TV for inspiration. TV is my down tune to give me a break from writing – even though I recognize that many of the series I love have excellent dialogue!

    Food for thought 🙂

  21. Julie Glover says:

    I’ve done a few writing exercises, but these seem to be real stretchers! Great ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  22. It’s important to flex our creative muscle, especially when we are struggling with doubt, worry or frustration. I know that exercises really helped me when I had writer’s block. Thankfully I only had to go through that once, but it taught me that I never want to go there again, and the creative power boost of a good exercise. 🙂 Thanks for being with us today, Jess!

  23. Corrie says:

    I can’t wait to try these exercises. I especially love the idea of working with other mediums. Using a favourite show to study subtext in dialogue is such a cool idea! 🙂

  24. Yessenia Escoto says:

    I’ve never tried writing exercises like these before, but I think I’m going to really enjoy doing a few of them and seeing the kind of results I get. You never know until you try, right?

  25. Sheri Larsen says:

    I love doing #2. (‘K, that sounded weird. But you know what I meant.) Actually, watching films and writing my own scenes and stories from them is how my interest in writing and creating began – way back in junior high.

  26. Michael M Dickson says:

    Haha, after reading the title to the post and cringing, the next line I saw was this:

    “When you think about writing exercises, does your stomach sink?”

    Great exercises, but I’m still not going to start. 🙂

  27. Jessica Bell says:

    Thank you so much for having me today. It was a real pleasure!

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